What online video needs


I was thinking about the differences between TV and YouTube.  Some differences are obvious.  YouTube’s videos are mostly far shorter than an average TV program, and YouTube’s offerings have very low production value, being made by home users who simply wish to share a small comment or piece of art or something.

But the experience of watching a YouTube video is also different.  Not just because it’s watched on a computer screen rather than a TV screen, but the experience is framed differently by audiences.  That is, audiences expect a different experience when clicking on the TV and when watching a YouTube video.  Even though YouTube vids are short and have low production value, it takes audiences more work to get to them.  They have to load up the browser, go to YouTube, and search or click around for their desired vid.  TV, however, only takes the click of one or two buttons on a remote.  TV broadcasters are continually pumping out content.  TV audiences often ignore a lot of TV content, leaving it on in the background, or tuning in when they are bored, just to “see what’s on.”

So, if online video is to compete with traditional TV, we need an online service that will pump out video automatically, without the user having to make a conscious effort to decide what to watch specifically.  Online video needs a way for audiences to just “see what’s on.”  A first-time user could setup a custom channel depending on his interests, and YouTube would load the selected videos automatically.  If the user doesn’t like them, he can go find his own videos.  Meanwhile, there are plenty of people settling for boring stuff on TV simply because it’s more convenient, because it takes less work to get to.  It’s worth competing for their attention.

So somebody go make that.

Distraction: some random thoughts on Internet media

I’ll be spending the next several weeks really diving into developing my ideas for a cartoon series (which I’ve mentioned every now and then on this blog for while). I’m putting together a pitch and will try my best to sell it. If that doesn’t pan out (it’s a super-competitive market, after all), I might look into Internet distribution.

Two things got me thinking about the Internet as a form of video distribution. First, there was this post on Cartoon Brew. I myself have often wondered about the possibilities of marketing cartoon content on the Internet. No one has really figured out how to monetize videos yet, except in very limited ways (ads on YouTube, mainly, which don’t pay nearly enough to guarantee an income for someone just starting out; making a living off of YouTube ad revenue takes a combination of continuous hard work and luck; that is, you can’t guarantee a ton of people will see your work like you can if your work appears on a popular TV channel).

I was also recently thinking about the art of film editing after having watched The Cutting Edge – The Magic of Movie Editing. The documentary makes mention of the fact that audiences today seem more capable of handling (or are more hungry for) extremely fast-paced rapid cuts (such as during chase scenes and fight scenes). And I took particular note of something director Martin Scorsese said about this:

What I’m afraid of is the tendency for everything to go by quickly and I’m afraid of what it does to the culture… a sense of consuming something and throwing it away as opposed to being enveloped with something, taking the time to see and experience time in a different way.

If you take a look at what sorts of comedy videos become popular on YouTube (such as Fred, The Annoying Orange, Smosh, etc.), they share one main important feature: short length. These video creators do not ask viewers to become involved in a story the way TV shows and movies do. They are short and gag-driven.

Why is this the case?

It is my theory (not that I’m the only one to have this theory, of course) that it is because when viewers watch videos on the Internet, they are close to their keyboards. They are ready to type chat messages with their friends on Facebook. They are ready to watch the next video on the side of YouTube. They are ready to load up a new website. It’s just so easy to be distracted, to go on to something else, that they are probably not going to sit through a 22-minute or 43-minute or 90-minute video narrative of something they’ve never seen before. (By narrative video, I mean a fiction-story-driven video, not a documentary or a lecture or an interview, etc.)

If they want to have that sort of longer video watching experience, they’ll go to the TV, where they have a more comfortable seat, a better viewing distance, and less distractions. Or they’ll turn their TV on while they do something else and use the TV’s narrative as a background experience. (Which really isn’t great for your mind, but if you’re working on something dull, like folding laundry or history homework, it can help the time go by.)

If you want the best distraction-free narrative viewing, you go to the movie theater. The lights are dimmed, people’s cell phones should be off, there’s no rewind button, there’s no house phone, there’s no refrigerator for you to get a drink from, there are no commercials… it’s just you and the movie. You go there to be absorbed entirely in the story of the movie.

So… my point is that if we’re going to try to monetize the narrative video viewing experience on the Internet like it’s monetized with advertising on the TV, we have to take into account all the possible distractions people have while they sit on their computers. If you want to distribute a 22-minute cartoon episode (or really anything over 5 minutes), maybe force full-screen? Er… I’m not sure I can think of anything else that might help counter the distraction problem at the moment, but I think that’s what video distributors need to be thinking about: how to stop viewers from being distracted. Until then, I think the classic TV in the living room will remain the dominant distribution method for longer narratives.

That said, Internet TVs will, I think, certainly change things. At least they have the potential to as they become more popular. It will be interesting to see whether they make longer narrative videos more popular on the Internet or introduce more distractions into the normal TV-watching experience. Or both. But I think that’s the boat to be on. I think YouTube is simply too distraction-driven for longer narratives to find potential audiences.

(That said, even with Internet TVs, there will still be no guaranteed way to make money off your content; the competition is simply too strong. Luck will always be a factor, no matter the content or the manner of distribution. We can not hold up something like The Annoying Orange and claim it became popular for some innate reason. Likewise, we can not hold up some video that failed to become popular and claim its unpopularity was due to some innate flaw or some sort of artistic ignorance. Success simply can’t be mathematically manufactured; it is a product of a social system far too complex to design for.)

VUDU looks useless

This article seemed interesting. I guess the movie studios are really hating not being able to capitalize on Netflix’s streaming success (which, quality-wise, isn’t even that great):

At a press conference today in Los Angeles, the company announced that, as rumored, it’s launching a new program called the Disc to Digital service. Starting on April 16, anyone can bring their DVD collection into a Walmart store, and copies of each movie will be loaded onto your account on VUDU…

To make this happen, Walmart is partnering with 20th Century Fox, Universal, Sony Pictures, Paramount, and Warner Bros., and it sounds like the program will include any DVD released by those studios. (Executives from all five took the stage at Walmart’s event.) The system will also integrate with the UltraViolet digital locker platform that the studios have been pushing, making UltraViolet titles available through VUDU.

Um… I guess that’s nice, but are they really loading your movies on to VUDU, or just unlocking access to them? And if they’re just unlocking access to them, should that really cost so much?

I personally prefer to watch blu-rays on my laptop. A movie theater provides the best movie-watching experience (though I wish I could help them get the sound and focus at just the right levels), but a blu-ray on the laptop is the next best thing. Then DVD. Then streaming. Streaming is awful, quality-wise. VUDU says it allows HD streaming to TVs via various devices, but I’m not sure most Internet connections can support that yet, at least not around here; and even if they could, it seems like a terrible waste of resources. And it doesn’t support HD streaming to PCs. And it doesn’t support mobile Android devices.

And the prices to rent or buy digital content from them are ridiculous.

So, as far as I can tell, this is pretty much useless at the moment. I’ll stick to buying blu-rays, or renting them from Netflix.

E-books need a subscription service

I would think an ideal business model (from a consumer perspective) would be a monthly or yearly fee (I’d probably be willing to pay up to $20 a month) for unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of books. No need to digitally recreate the “library check out” process that places artificial limitations on digital resources. You pay the fee, you get access. Once you stop renewing your subscription, no more access. Your monthly fee goes to the service to keep it running, and to the publishers of the books you spent the most time reading (or flipped the most pages of, or something).

Unfortunately, just as movie studios are stingy about letting audiences have too many streaming options, I doubt most publishers would be willing to allow such access to large catalogues. And this sort of business won’t work if the size of the catalogue isn’t vast enough to attract audiences. It must compete with physical libraries after all.

For now, the only thing that could pry me away from small stacks of physical paper would be easier access to a vaster selection for a cheaper price.

The Singularity is near… ?

Jürgen Schmidhuber at Singularity Summit 2009 – Compression Progress: The Algorithmic Principle Behind Curiosity and Creativity from Singularity Institute on Vimeo.

Also check out: Formal Theory of Creativity & Fun & Intrinsic Motivation

“Someday computers will be artists. They’ll be able to write amusing and original stories, invent and play games of unsurpassed complexity and inventiveness, tell jokes, and suffer writer’s block.” ~Scott R. Turner

P.S. Notice this is exactly the same kinda thing Feynman was saying in that video I posted last week.

Are 3D conversions actually better?

There’s an interesting blog post over on Blue Sky Disney about 3D. I do find it nice to see a blog post by someone who doesn’t seem to hate 3D as much as many other bloggers (just check out that post’s comments), but he also makes an interesting point:

A lot has been said about shooting 3D rather than post converting. Just because some studios wanted to rush a conversion and the conversions came out poorly, people have just assumed that all conversion is poorly done. The way conversion should be used is just like any other art form, it should be viewed like cinematography, editing, sound, it is essential to the picture to be done right. “Conversion is a artistic process, not a technical one” – Jon Landau.

If you’ve read some of my older posts, you’ll know that I’ve said that a live-action 3D movie should be shot in 3D, because 3D conversions look awful. I suppose I fell prey to a deductive fallacy; just because the conversions I’ve seen have been awful doesn’t mean that they’re all awful. I’ll still have to see the conversions myself to judge them, I’m not going to take anyone’s word for it, but the writer does make a good point that converting to 3D in post (when not rushed) gives artists much more control over the shot. I still have to wonder how they would convert something like a panning shot of a tree or a field of grass; there’s just so much stuff there to worry about. But if I were a director, it would be much easier to worry about depth perception after shooting, instead of having it hinder my cinematographic decisions during shooting.

Also, though the writer mentions the rise in popularity of 3D TVs, I still think they flicker too much and I’d rather not wear clunky expensive battery-powered glasses. Gimme the cheap movie theater glasses. And raise those frame rates. Maybe they need to sell 3D projector systems?

Are 3D movies inherently bad?

Earlier this month I wrote a post about people’s arguments against 3D films. Roger Ebert recently wrote this blog post: Why 3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.

Case closed? As if that will stop people from arguing or as if that excuses you from having to further defend your position in any way?

Ebert starts off by writing:

I received a letter that ends, as far as I am concerned, the discussion about 3D. It doesn’t work with our brains and it never will.

The notion that we are asked to pay a premium to witness an inferior and inherently brain-confusing image is outrageous. The case is closed.

Firstly, notice the first sentence of the second paragraph there. Why does he feel the need to mention price? Isn’t that a different (albeit related) argument?

Secondly, nothing can be inherently brain-confusing. Confusion is a psychological response to something; it can’t exist if there’s no brain to be confused. Since it’s completely psychological, it’s also completely subjective. A majority can certainly share opinions since human brains do have a lot of similarities, but you can never objectively close a case about what is and isn’t confusing.

The post is really about Walter Murch’s letter to Ebert, so Ebert then goes into mentioning Murch’s credentials. I’m tempted to scoff at the idea of giving off credentials for something like this; after all, we can all go see 3D movies and make our own judgments, but then I remembered what Ebert’s job was. Oh yeah. He probably feels the need to validate letters like this with credentials, even though, in a case like this, they’re meaningless.

Murch’s argument:

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues — darkness and “smallness” — are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now “opened up” so that your lines of sight are almost — almost — parallel to each other.

My counter-argument:

Nope, I don’t mind 3D!

Well, there you have it folks! You can’t say “here’s the physiological response of doing what you’re doing, therefore it’s innately bad.” I don’t give a $%@! if it gives you headaches or confuses you subconsciously. My brain feels fine, and unless you show me statistical evidence that 3D movies cause cancer or something, you’re not going to sway my opinion.

Yes, the extra price on top of already-too-high ticket prices is stupid, but if that’s your issue, focus on that. Murch’s argument only supports your anti-3D argument if you get headaches or feel other harmful physiological aspects in yourself while or after watching a 3D film.

It’s kind of funny that Murch writes:

[3D film audiences] are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for.

In his book, In the Blink of an Eye, Murch mentions that the same is true for many sorts of editorial cuts in general! He mentions that it’s fascinating the eye can understand such cuts at all considering how, before films, the eye never had a chance to experience and adapt to such cuts before (like over-the-shoulder cuts during a two-way conversation). Of course, there are still limits to what looks good to most audiences and what will undoubtedly confuse them; there are still rules that film editors have to work with for whatever effect they want to achieve.

Considering Murch himself knows this, shouldn’t he at least guess that young eyes and brains might have the ability to adapt to 3D, or that it might cause minimal or no harm or confusion in some brain-eye systems, like, gee, I don’t know… mine?

Computer plays Jeopardy, but does not know how to love

According to this article on Engadget:

So, in February IBM’s Watson will be in an official Jeopardy tournament-style competition with titans of trivia Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. That competition will be taped starting tomorrow, but hopefully we’ll get to know if a computer really can take down the greatest Jeopardy players of all time in “real time” as the show airs. It will be a historic event on par with Deep Blue vs. Garry Kasparov, and we’ll absolutely be glued to our seats. Today IBM and Jeopardy offered a quick teaser of that match, with the three contestants knocking out three categories at lightning speed. Not a single question was answered wrongly, and at the end of the match Watson, who answers questions with a cold computer voice, telegraphing his certainty with simple color changes on his “avatar,” was ahead with $4,400, Ken had $3,400, and Brad had $1,200.

This is kind of interesting because what makes a computer good at Jeopardy is the opposite of what makes a human good at Jeopardy.

A computer can easily store vast amounts of data, but cannot so easily process human language.

A human can easily understand language, but we can’t easily store vast amounts of data. After all, the entire point of Jeopardy is not understanding the question, but knowing data that most humans don’t use in every day life.

So I think the real achievement here is in language processing — being able to output a specific answer based really only on an incoming string of letters (or maybe sound waves).

It’s easy to understand how such an achievement could be useful: imagine being able to type a question into Google and getting a direct answer (or at least a direct guess) instead of just a bunch of webpages that make you search for the answer yourself. Even though searching for the answer yourself doesn’t always take that much time, getting a direct answer would be much more convenient. Or imagine being able to speak a question into your phone or your car’s dashboard while driving, when you can’t browse the web without risking death, and having it speak back a direct answer. Imagine being able to cheat easily while you’re playing trivia games with your friends who are judging your intelligence and value as a friend based on how many useless random things you know.

While this would be nice technology for us to have, it still doesn’t have the power to create so much, does it? When will we have computers that can formulate their own sentences? That can write metaphors? That can write entire books? I guess we’re still too far away from that…

Anyway, if the computer wins, I say it should take over Alex Trebek’s job. I mean, what does he get paid for anyway? He just stands there and reads stuff. Computers can already do that. And besides, he still has his life insurance spokesperson job to fall back on.

Why do so many people hate 3D movies?

The few reasons I can think of:

1. Prices are stupid. The extra money isn’t for the glasses. In fact, I’m not sure what it’s for. Does the projector cost that much more money to run? I doubt it. The production companies are just stupid. Less people coming to the theater? Let’s jack up the prices! They might be happily traveling down the road that will kill them, especially as Internet movie distribution becomes more prevalent with Internet TVs. But who knows how much money they’re making? Maybe they have nothing to complain about. But, from an audience point of view, $13 or more is just not worth it for seeing a movie one time in a theater. So I think this argument is entirely valid.

2. You get motion sickness. I don’t, but some people do. Obviously you don’t want to watch a movie that makes you sick.

3. The glasses look dorky. I don’t understand this one. They are uncomfortable in their “one-size-fits-all” design. It would be nice to have a pair that are designed more like sunglasses. But if you think you look like a dork in them, that’s just your own self-conscious fault. You’re in a darkened theater. If you’re concerned how you look in a movie theater, you have bigger problems than how you look in a movie theater.

4. Aesthetic reasons. I can only partly understand this. From what I’ve seen, when they convert 2D to 3D, it looks cardboard-cutout-ish and awful. Looks much better if they shoot it in 3D, or if it’s already CGI and they can just move the virtual camera (as long as they do it right; you can’t just move it over a random distance to the side, obviously). Supposedly they’ve gotten better at converting 2D to 3D, but the examples I’ve seen so far have been awful.

I don’t understand the larger argument of a 3D movie in general being bad. The real world is in 3D after all. Do you get mad that a movie isn’t in black and white or isn’t silent?

If you’re distracted by the beauty of the 3D (I do sometimes find myself thinking “ooh, this looks so cool!” especially in a good theater), why is that a bad thing? You could be equally distracted by the beauty of a character, or a set, or the music, or the cinematography, etc. Maybe you will not be as conscious of those other elements because you are more used to them, in which case being distracted by 3D is simply a matter of experience with it. Would you claim that the story is the only part of a movie that is allowed to be beautiful, that is allowed to affect you emotionally?

If it distracts you because you think it is ugly, why do you think it’s ugly? Is it just unconvincing for some reason? As I said, the real world is in 3D and you probably don’t go around with one eye closed because you find 3D ugly. It should make the movie more immersive; from an audience point of view, that’s the entire point of 3D; it makes the world of the film look more tangible. I think that’s awesome, and I hope it doesn’t go away anytime soon. (And I do hope 3D TVs stop using that flicker technology; that’s just annoying. Find a way to get both images up there at once.)

Garritan World Instruments coming soon…

Today on the Garritan forum, Gary Garritan posted a link to the catalog of instruments that will be available in his upcoming World Instruments library: World Instruments List.

There are plenty of instruments to look forward to here. Irish whistles, bagpipes, panpipes, celtic harp, didgeridoo, the various Chinese, Japanese, and Indian woodwinds, ocarinas, bamboo flute, bone flute, fife, conch shell, temple bells, temple blocks, lava stones, Tibetan singing bowls, rain stick, plenty of percussion I’ve never even heard of before, koto, hurdy gurdy, mandolin, dulcimer, ukuleles, harmonium, steel drums, melodica, and plenty more. Definitely check out the list.

I have no idea what I’ll compose when I get my hands on this new set of sounds, but I’m really looking forward to it!